One of my favorite things is when I stumble across a picture book I haven’t heard much about and it ends up being practically perfect. (And it also goes well with a book I already know about.)
The book: PIECE BY PIECE: ERNESTINE’S GIFT FOR PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT is written by Lupe Ruiz Flores. It’s illustrated by Anna Lopez Real and was published by Millbrook Press this year.
The topic: A nonfiction picture book about Ernestine Guerrero, a 14-year-old girl from San Antonio, Texas who, during the Great Depression, used the wooden crates her family’s free food allotment came in to build an intricate clock case for President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a thank-you for how his New Deal policies helped provide for her family.
Why it’s awesome: A good nonfiction picture book is one that — first and foremost — tells an engaging story that draws the reader in, while also helping them learn about something they might not have known before. And, that’s certainly what happens here.
Although the clock case Ernestine painstakingly built — and the letter she sent with it to President Roosevelt — are on exhibit at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in update New York, her story is not well know. Ernestine never even mentioned her presidential gift to her four daughters. They found out about it after she’d died.
Author Lupe Ruiz Flores did a combination of personal interviews with Ernestine’s family and research to create this book which covers the Great Depression, the effects it had on families like Ernestine’s and how Ernestine, who had left school at age 9 to work, built the 156-piece, 40-inch high clock case.
Like all good nonfiction picture books, this one takes topics that have had hundreds of thosands of words written about them and condenses them into clear, simple, understandable segments. Here’s how the books describes the Great Depression:
Thanks to the Great Depression,
prices for crops and livestock fell,
and farmers couldn’t make enough money.
When they couldn’t pay their bills,
they had to abandon their land.
Millions of people lost their jobs,
their homes and their life savings.
Not just in the United States, but in countries everywhere.
Piece by piece, the world as they knew it fell apart.
Despite this, like all good picture books, this is a story of hope. Ernestine is grateful for the free food her family receives, even if she has to stand in line for hours to receive it. She wants to thank the president, but all she has to work with are the sugar-pine crates the food comes in. So she carves intricate designs out the the wood and turns nothing into something beautiful that is still admired today.
The themes: This book is a testament to ingenuity, skill, perseverance and gratitude. Ernestine could have found so many reasons to give up — lack of materials, lack of funds, lack of experience and education. Or she could have been so overwhelmed by her family’s struggle to survive that she had no room for gratitude.
Picture books this pairs well with: If you have young, creative builders in your life, pair this nonfiction book with a fiction look at problem-solving building like A GIRL CAN BUILD ANYTHING or SOMEONE BUILDS THE DREAM. Put all three books together with a set of tools or Legos or construction materials and see what they can create!